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Michigan plot to breach voting machines points to a national pattern

Politics

“What on earth is being conducted?”

Salwan Georges
Supporters of former president Donald Trump gather for a rally at Michigan State Capitol in Lansing in October 2021 to demand a forensic audit of the 2020 election. Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

By Patrick Marley and Tom Hamburger, Washington Post

Eight months following the 2020 presidential election, Robin Hawthorne didn’t expect one to require her townships voting machines.

The election had opted smoothly, she said, in the same way others had that she had overseen for 17 years because the Rutland Charter Township clerk in rural western Michigan. However now a sheriffs deputy and investigator were in her office, asking her about her townships three vote tabulators, suggesting they somehow have been programmed with a microchip to shift votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden and asking her at hand one over for inspection.

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What on earth is being conducted? she recalled thinking. The surprise visit might have been an out-of-the-blue thing, as Hawthorne described it, nonetheless it was one component of a much broader effort by figures who deny the results of the 2020 vote to gain access to voting machines in a bid to prove fraud that experts say will not exist.

In states in the united states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and Georgia, attempts to inappropriately access voting machines have spurred investigations. They will have also sparked concern among election authorities that, while voting systems are broadly secure, breaches by those searching for proof fraud could themselves compromise the integrity of the procedure and undermine confidence in the vote.

In Michigan, the efforts to gain access to the machines jumped into public treat this month once the states Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, requested a particular prosecutor be assigned to check right into a group which includes her likely Republican opponent, Matthew DePerno.

The expected Republican nominee, Nessels office wrote in a petition filed Aug. 5 in line with the findings of circumstances police investigation, was among the prime instigators of a conspiracy to persuade Michigan clerks to permit unauthorized usage of voting machines. Others involved, based on the filing, included circumstances representative and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf.

Although Hawthorne rebuffed the request by investigators to look at among her machines, a clerk in nearby Irving Township handed one to the pair despite state and federal laws that limit who is able to access them. About 150 miles north of Hawthornes township, three clerks in two other Michigan counties turned over voting machines along with other equipment to third parties, public record information show.

The petition says tabulators were taken up to resort rooms and Airbnb rentals in Oakland County, in which a band of four men broke in to the tabulators and performed tests in it. The petition says that DePerno was within a accommodation during a few of the testing.

Officials got the tabulators back weeks or months later, in a single instance at a gathering in a carpool parking lot. DePerno has denied any wrongdoing, as has Leaf, the Barry County sheriff. The DePerno campaign issued a statement calling the petition for a particular prosecutor an incoherent liberal fever imagine lies.

Once election officials lose control of voting machines, the machines can’t be used due to the threat of hacking. Moreover, voters can lose faith in the countrys electoral infrastructure if they hear about machines which have not been adequately protected, election experts warn.

Until recently, said Tammy Patrick, who works together with election officials round the country as a senior adviser at the nonprofit Democracy Fund, it seemed far-fetched that election networks could possibly be exposed in the manner these were in Michigan. Unfortunately, we’ve numerous instances within the last 12 months where this type of thing has happened round the country, she said. It really is deeply troubling.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said within an interview with The Washington Post that efforts to twist the arm of election officials to obtain them to show over secure information are illegal. She said it is necessary for police to act not only to carry accountable anyone who has been attempting to interfere with the procedure, but to consider the connectivity to see if there exists a broader connection, not only inside our state, but beyond Michigan to Georgia and Ohio along with other states where you see this happening.

Even though exact nature of connections between efforts in various states to breach machines remains unclear, the problem in Michigan is comparable to ones elsewhere where allegedly unofficial and unauthorized investigators sought proof fraud by gaining usage of voting equipment. Some of these named in the Michigan case have already been linked to cases elsewhere.

In Colorado, the Mesa County clerk, Tina Peters, was indicted in March on charges stemming from her effort to permit allegedly unauthorized visitors to copy the hard disks of voting machines in her county. Peters has denied wrongdoing. In Coffee County, Ga., a cybersecurity executive named in the Michigan case, Benjamin Cotton, said in court filings he had gained usage of the Georgia countys voting system information.

In Pennsylvania, the secretary of state ordered the decertification of machines in Fulton County after she said these were improperly accessed by individuals wanting to investigate the 2020 election.

Election experts come to mind that in a few of the intrusions, voting tabulators might have been compromised or the exposure of serial numbers along with other information regarding voting systems will make them more susceptible to fraud. More broadly, they said, these instances undermine rely upon voting.

For months, few knew concerning the overview of voting machines by Leaf, the Barry County sheriff, who belongs to a constitutional sheriffs association that contends sheriffs must response to voters however, not state or federal authorities. His team told clerks to help keep their visits quiet, in accordance with clerks.

Barry County Clerk Pamela Palmer learned of the investigation in June 2021 and confronted Deputy Sheriff Kevin Erb and investigator Michael Lynch to ask why she was not told about their work.

They said, Well, were sort of doing this beneath the part of surprise. I said, What are you experiencing to hide? In order that is sort of what started everything, Palmer said. Reuters last month first reported on the scope of Leafs investigation and Palmers challenge to it.

Salwan Georges
A voter casts an absentee ballot during early presidential election voting in Detroit in October 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

Barry Countys top prosecutor, Julie Nakfoor Pratt, met with Leaf and his attorney, Stefanie Lambert, along with others last summer to discover what these were doing. Lambert pressed Pratt to issue search warrants and tried to shape how she handled the case, Pratt said.

Pratt said she told Lambert that Leaf hadnt demonstrated he previously probable cause to inspect the voting machines. I stood my ground and I simply informed her, youve surely got to go with everything you have and when you dont own it, you dont own it, Pratt said.

In a written statement, Lambert said the groups inquiries into voting machines were appropriate. Her statement echoed ones issued by DePerno and Logan that criticized the attorney general. Legitimate investigations with respect to elected constitutional officers throughout determining whether there is election day fraud isn’t a crime, Lambert said in her statement.

Hawthorne, the clerk from Rutland Charter Township, was baffled by the theories presented to her during her ending up in Erb and Lynch about votes being shifted from Trump to Biden in a county that Trump won by way of a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

They appear to think there is some type of microchip inside our tabulators that has been throwing votes to Biden, Hawthorne said. But Trump won Barry County. He won by 65% of the vote, therefore i dont know where theyre convinced that any type of chips were in virtually any of our machines or convinced that something had happened in their mind. The whole lot is nutty. Its nutty, totally nutty.

The attorney generals petition for a particular prosecutor contends DePerno, Lambert and Republican state Rep. Daire Rendon orchestrated a coordinated intend to access voting tabulators. Amongst others, the petition also mentions Leaf, Cotton and former Cyber Ninjas leader Doug Logan. Logans firm was associated with a months-long, Republican-driven overview of ballots in Arizona that election experts said was sloppily handled.

The clerks willingly quit their voting equipment to someone described only as Person 1 in a letter from Chief Deputy Attorney General Christina Grossi. After Roscommon County Clerk Michelle Stevenson paid a tabulator and flash drives, she begun to question the authority of the investigation. Circumstances representative unnamed in Grossis letter told Stevenson she was doing the proper thing and assured her that her name could not appear.

Those that obtained the voting machines held onto them for weeks or months, evoking the clerks to cultivate apprehensive, Grossis letter explains. The machines were returned in meetings at a shopping mall and carpool parking lot.

Leaf is continuing his work and in June asked a us state court to take the extraordinary step of halting the attorney generals investigation into his efforts to prove fraud in the 2020 election. Last month at a NEVADA conference of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association he lamented he hadn’t persuaded Pratt, the county prosecutor, to pursue search warrants.

Were likely to excersice forward, folks. Weren’t finished with this, Leaf said, suggesting he could seek to prosecute alleged election fraud utilizing a common-law grand jury, an unofficial body that some claim can issue indictments.

Nessels obtain a particular prosecutor designed to avoid a conflict of interest because her opponent is the type of being probed may mean any try to pursue charges in the voting machine breach investigation could move slowly. The Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council in Michigan, which assigns special prosecutors in cases of conflict of interest, may take around 90 days to set up for a prosecutor to part of, said Cheri L. Bruinsma, the councils executive director.

On Friday, the Brennan Center for Justice at NY University School of Law sent a memo to organizations representing a large number of local election officials nationwide advising them of the growing issue of machine breaches and how exactly to react to it. Public confidence in future elections could be severely damaged by plausible allegations that unauthorized or biased actors have already been given physical usage of voting equipment, the memo says.

The memo urges officials to possess a plan set up to quickly investigate possible breaches of voting machines also to replace or decommission election equipment if needed. The memo recommends practices to avoid such tampering, including closely restricting usage of election systems, instituting criminal background checks on anyone who has access and installing surveillance cameras.

Its super very important to election officials to learn these breaches of election security are occurring and that there were swift and strong reactions to it, said Lawrence Norden, director of elections and government for the Brennan Center. You want to be certain local election officials know they will have an obligation to detect and quickly take remedial action in case a breach occurs.

Hawthorne, the clerk in Rutland Charter Township, said she along with other clerks in Michigan are trained to never quit their voting machines. She said she was shocked to listen to some had handed them over and stunned that Leaf, the sheriff in her county, was spending so enough time on which she considers a misguided investigation.

He thinks that theres some type of massive thing going on in Barry County, that i dont understand, Hawthorne said. Were only a tiny little county in Michigan. We cant really affect the voting results at all, shape or form.

The Washington Posts Emma Brown contributed to the report.

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